The Beach

By Alex Garland,

Book cover of The Beach

Book description

On Richard's first night in Bangkok, a fellow traveller slits his wrists, leaving Richard a map to "the Beach", where white sands circle a lagoon hidden from the sea, coral gardens and freshwater falls are surrounded by jungle. Richard was looking for adventure, and now he has found it.

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Why read it?

4 authors picked The Beach as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This book is a little different because, although it is a coming of age in a way, the characters within it are already young adults when the story begins.

What I love about it though is that (like in many of the other books I have selected) the young people in this tale start off in a world that superficially is one thing – a beautiful tropical island - but then becomes something very different – a horrifically violent community. That divergence of the appearance of a place from the reality of living within it is fascinating.

This is the only book on the list that’s not actually a romance. There is romance in it, though, so I think it counts. Regardless, I love this book and will always recommend it. I just happened to read it before I did my first big backpacking trip alone, and it totally influenced the way I approached those three months. In the book, the main character is obsessed with not just being a tourist but really experiencing the world in an adventurous way. It’s been years since I read it, and I still think about it all the time. If…

When people talk about islanders losing their grip on civilization, the book they usually mention is Lord of the Flies. To me, The Beach will always eclipse it in terms of both shock value and by virtue of being aimed more squarely at adults. 

It’s the story of a group of backpackers who discover an Edenic Thai island, unspoiled by tourism. The narrative is part humorous dissection of serial backpacker/tourist culture and part harrowing survival thriller. The island community is slowly torn apart by jealousy, drug lords, and arrogance in a grim acid trip of shark attacks and unrequited…

The Beach encapsulates the Zeitgeist of the late 90s Lonely Planet heydays, and the subsequent movie adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio made Garland’s text a backpacker accessory for at least a decade. Lord of the Flies meets The Heart of Darkness amongst free-wheeling hippie travelers in search of utopia in eastern lands and remote, forbidden islands. Paradise, once found by its traveler protagonists, is soon lost again amidst internal confusion and shifting morality coming up against the harsh realities of life in Southeast Asia. A classic thriller, very much of its time, though it’s likely to outlive the 100s of other…

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